In my engagement with the Sierra Club group on LinkedIn (note – the group is not sponsored or affiliated with the actual Sierra Club) I ran across a commenter who would probably find some kindred souls among the Peak Oil pessimists and the skeptical survivalists.
Here is what he told me after I had described some of the benefits of using nuclear fission energy and about my love of living a comfortable lifestyle with access to plenty of energy.
Look at what is really important to you, and what you consider to be your assets and your wealth. If the system collapses, a potato and a jug of drinkable water may be worth more than your wallet stuffed with cash and credit cards. What do you have to offer, and what will sustain you if things really do fall apart? If your house is huge, requires excessive energy to heat, and is located miles from anywhere, it’s not going to be very valuable. If your skills are making money on the stock market, or selling things that are not truly necessary for survival, you will be a liability rather than an asset. The farmer who can grow crops, and the people who have sources of fresh water on their property, will become the new tycoons.
We can probably survive on the basis of “business as usual” for perhaps ten or twenty years more. I may not even be alive then. But it will be a very difficult world to live in for those who are young enough to consider the next fifty years. Very few people of the “civilized” world have the skills to survive at a hard core grass-roots level. And it will take a lot of cooperation among people, and much conservation and sharing of resources, to maintain anything more than a subsistence level of existence. This is where transition towns and intentional communities may prove to be the ideals of the future. Not only are natural resources shared, but it is also healthier for many people to interact more closely on a daily basis. It does take a village to raise a child. And it takes a community to sustain a healthy adult.
It’s going to happen. Not IF, but WHEN. At this point, a few more severe natural disasters, such as a major earthquake in the Cascadia region, will cause untold billions of dollars of losses, and we have not yet even cleaned up from Katrina and other disasters. At some point, the government will no longer be able to write blank checks, private insurance companies will go bankrupt, and we will all “feel the pain”.
In my mind, that is a very dark and pessimistic view of the world, especially since we have an amazing alternative. As Albert Einstein taught us about 110 years ago, there is no shortage of energy as long as there is matter and the knowledge of ways to convert matter into energy. The equation he shared told us all that nature (God, if you will) was incredibly generous since both m and c are almost inconceivably large numbers.
E = mc2
Here is my response back to the man who is apparently a true believer in Malthusian limits to growth.
I have read many scenarios like the one that you have posted on the web sites of some very right wing nutters who advocate many actions that would offend most Sierra Club members to their very core.
I share some of your opinion of the direction that the world is trending – the incredible uplifting of the poor and underprivileged around the world that has occurred since WWII seems to be nearing an end because it has, indeed been partially enabled by finding vast underground lakes of petroleum. For the record, neither my mom nor dad had more than two nickels to rub together before the war.
Most of the time, oil discoveries were made by some very short-sighted and greedy people who mainly wanted to pump and sell the black gold as fast as possible because they believed that practice would enrich them and the few people that they really cared about.
Countries with more far-sighted leaders saw how useful the black gold was and how much people valued it. They decided to tax it very heavily to help provide a more balanced economy and spread some of the wealth around with excellent social programs and safety nets. The heavy taxes and resulting high prices for gasoline and diesel fuel has helped to prevent too much waste and kept cars small and efficient. Even though I can afford today’s prices and could quite easily afford the late 1990s prices, I have mainly chosen to purchase fuel sipping vehicles. My wife drove a mini-van for many years, but we had active children and carried around a lot of car pools that would not have fit into my little cars.
I still regret that Clinton’s 50 cent per gallon gas tax did not pass in the US; I think that $1.00 or even $2.00 per gallon now would be appropriate.
I also believe that “cheap coal” and “cheap natural gas” are mirages because the accounting model for both requires the free use of our common atmosphere for a waste dump. There is no real alternative to getting rid of combustion products into the atmosphere if you want the social benefits that combustion brings in terms of eliminating drudgery and controlled human energy (servitude and slavery).
However, the cost of the waste should be added to the cost of the fuel, with the proceeds being distributed evenly to everyone who has a set of lungs. One of the founding principles in the US is that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Since air is absolutely required for life, I think that principle bequeaths every one of us an equal share of the air. If people are going to use our share as a dumping ground, they should pay for the amount that they dump.
You asked how I plan to survive in a post carbon collapsing economy. My plan is to do all I can to prevent that from happening. My contribution is the knowledge that I have gained in 30 years of studying nuclear energy and learning the details of how it is possible for a tiny pellet the size of the tip of my finger to provide as much heat energy as burning a ton of coal. I want to give everyone in the world access to their share of pellets. With a (figurative) bucket full of them smaller than the beach buckets that I and my children used to build wonderful castles, everyone would have all of the energy they ever needed for 7-9 decades of living, even if they live in a comfortable home with lots of windows to allow plenty of light to enter. The cost of that bucket full of fuel would be just a few thousand dollars in today’s money.
Friends of mine are working on ways to turn those pellets of UO2 into the energy equivalent of 20 TONS of coal – our current methods are still rather primitive and inefficient.